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More states debating paid parental leave laws

Published on April 18th, 2019 by Triton Benefits & HR Solutions

A recent poll revealed that paid family leave is the most highly coveted benefit among all employees, with 58% of survey respondents selecting the offering as a top priority. This helps explain why a 2018 SHRM study found that the prevalence of paid maternity leave had increased from 26% to 35% in the previous two years, with paid paternity leave jumping from 21% to 29% in the same period, as more employers recognize paid family leave as a powerful recruitment and retention tool. 

Some advocates, however, are pushing to see that all companies are required to offer their employees some form of paid family leave, a cause that appears to have widespread public support. According to a 2016 Pew Research poll, 82% of Americans believe mothers of newborns should have access to paid leave, and 69 percent said the same benefit should be extended to fathers.

For those looking to legislate paid family leave into practice, the main question now appears to be whether such regulations should be pursued at the state of federal level.

State legislators seeking input from HR professionals

In 2004, California became the first state to provide paid family and medical leave. Today the Golden State is joined by Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Washington state and the District of Columbia, though these handful of locations are far from uniform in their policies. The rate of wage replacement required by these various state and local laws ranges from 50% to 90%, and the amount of guaranteed time off varies from 4-12 weeks, or substantially longer if combined with medical leave.

In 2018, Delaware passed a generous paid family leave law that covers 100 percent of wages for up to 12 weeks after the birth or adoption of a child, though the legislation only applies to public-sector employees.

At the 2019 Society for Human Resource Management Employment Law & Legislative Conference in March, there were several state lawmakers in attendance who praised the trend of states making their own decisions regarding paid family leave and other workplace regulations.

"Never neglect your state legislatures," Virginia Delegate Mark Levine advised conference attendees. "The hard work gets done in your state capitals."

Over 80% of Americans said they believe new mothers should have access to paid leave, and nearly 70% believe fathers should enjoy the same benefit. Over 80% of Americans believe new mothers should have access to paid leave, and nearly 70% believe fathers should enjoy the same benefit.

Levine supports a paid family leave bill introduced in the Virginia House of Delegates, and which in its current form would provide up to 12 weeks of wage replacement at 70% of the employee's average weekly income. The legislator also invited HR professionals in the commonwealth to share their thoughts on the legislation with him.

"If you have a view on it, you need to let me know," Levine told the crowd. "I'm not wedded to any specific proposal. I'd much rather work with you than against you."

Others would rather see paid family leave legislation passed at the federal level. Supporters of a nationwide mandate include Ivanka Trump, who also appeared at the conference to discuss the initiatives of the American Workforce Policy Advisory Board, which she co-chairs.

Some employers also appear to prefer federal action, particularly multistate organizations that would like to craft a policy that can be applied to all of their employees, regardless of their location.

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